Our new article has been accepted in Molecular Ecology:
Sperlea T, Kreuder N, Beisser D, Hattab G, Boenigk J, Heider D: Quantification of the covariation of lake microbiomes and environmental variables using a machine learning-based framework. Molecular Ecology 2021, 30(9):2131-2144. (Link)
It is known that microorganisms are essential for the functioning of ecosystems, but the extent to which microorganisms respond to different environmental variables in their natural habitats is not clear. In the current study, we present a methodological framework to quantify the covariation of the microbial community of a habitat and environmental variables of this habitat. It is built on theoretical considerations of systems ecology, makes use of state‐of‐the‐art machine learning techniques and can be used to identify bioindicators. We apply the framework to a data set containing operational taxonomic units (OTUs) as well as more than twenty physicochemical and geographic variables measured in a large‐scale survey of European lakes. While a large part of variation (up to 61%) in many environmental variables can be explained by microbial community composition, some variables do not show significant covariation with the microbial lake community. Moreover, we have identified OTUs that act as “multitask” bioindicators, i.e., that are indicative for multiple environmental variables, and thus could be candidates for lake water monitoring schemes. Our results represent, for the first time, a quantification of the covariation of the lake microbiome and a wide array of environmental variables for lake ecosystems. Building on the results and methodology presented here, it will be possible to identify microbial taxa and processes that are essential for functioning and stability of lake ecosystems.